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Chamber celebrates community heroes

A community celebration of the people who make a difference in the city of Perham recognized volunteers, business leaders, a teacher and the former city manager.

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Goose Gang employees Lora Bjerke, left, and Ali Petru accepted the Chamber Choice Award for Best in Business from Chamber board president Nick Theroux during the banquet held last Thursday. Goose Gang is owned by Doug and Sue Huebsch.

A community celebration of the people who make a difference in the city of Perham recognized volunteers, business leaders, a teacher and the former city manager.

The Chamber Choice Awards, sponsored by the Perham Chamber of Commerce, held last Thursday at The Cactus, was well-attended, with about 150 people honoring businesses Goose Gang and Murdock's Ace Hardware; volunteers Winnie Huwe and Mary Hein; teacher Mike Peterson; Hospital Board member Jerry Kunza; and the Tuffy's leadership team of Charlie Nelson and Jon Ebeling.

The event was emcee'd by Jeff Tweeton and included prayer by the Rev. Rod Tornquist. Chamber director Dan Schroeder offered the welcome.

A special award, intended as a surprise, was given to former City Manager Kelcey Klemm in honor of his eight years of service to Perham. Despite his youth when he was hired in 2008, he had the talent, skill and maturity to lead the the city in accomplishing a number of city projects, said City Attorney Dennis Happel in his introduction of the award.

"We all know that Perham is the best community around," Happel said. "We have great leaders but without strong, visionary, creative, progressive leadership at the city level it doesn't work. Kelcey has given us all of that."

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Happel went on to outline the projects Klemm had a hand in, including the $40 million hospital, $75 million Tuffy's plant, new regional refuse plant, the new upcoming high school, public works garage, new water towers, bike trails, roads and sidewalks, sewer expansions to many businesses, a 500-person population increase and an increase in housing units.

"Kelcey had a big hand in all of this," Happel said.

Klemm skillfully wrote grants, working through the regulations and lobbying for the city, yet managed to balance that with loyalty to the taxpayers, he said, adding that Klemm also had the respect of his staff and the community.

"All that time, he also was volunteering and serving the community outside his job.

In accepting the recognition, Klemm acknowledged that he couldn't do what was accomplished for Perham alone.

"I couldn't do it without the staff," he said. They always had my back."

Klemm's last day with the city of Perham was April 8.

Chuck Johnson made the special plaque presented to Klemm by Happel.

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The Rev. Rod Tornquist, in presenting the Volunteer Award to Winnie Huwe and Mary Hein, who run the Richville Clothing Mission, said that the two women truly exemplified the power of the Holy Spirit.

"We are very fortunate to have very faithful volunteers," Hume said. I'm very humble and grateful for this award. Thank you."

Huwe has been an active volunteer in the Perham and Richville area, working at the food shelf for several years, as well as at the Camp for the Master in Henning. In addition, she worked at the Veterans Home in Fergus Falls for six years and in 2001, became involved in the clothing mission at Richville United Methodist Church. She was instrumental in the mission's growth as she coordinated clothing drives and drops as well as the volunteers to sort and stack clothes to be distributed.

She and Hein worked together to organize a board to over the mission and its growing outreach into five counties and to an annual clientele of more than 4,000, distributing 40,00 tons of clothing annually.

Hein, too, has been an integral part of the mission, since 2001, through Richville United Methodist Church. She and her husband, Dennis, initially provided a shed for the ministry and has been actively involved in providing clothing to many who were in need.

She has served on the clothing ministry board for 10 years and has overseen the expansion into a trailer house across from the church and then into a 3,500-square-foot basement the mission now inhabits.

She shared a story about an elderly gentleman who had lost weight due to an illness. He wanted to find a pair of pants and shirt that would fit him, she said.

She and others helped him find a suit that fit him well and even outfitted him with a pair of shoes.

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They complimented him on his suit and told him he looked all decked out for a wedding or a party.

"He said thank you so much," Hein shared in an emotional voice, "I'm going to be wearing it at my funeral next month."

Huwe and Hein are using their gifts and talents communicating the love of Christ for the poor, Tornquist said.

Mike Peterson received the Chamber's Hall of Fame award for his work with kids at Perham High School.

Peterson has served the district as a physical education and health teacher, and coached athletic teams, including track and field, as well as volunteered as a volley ball coach for 11 years, said Fred Sailer, the former athletic director for PHS, in his introduction of Peterson.

Sailer outlined the accomplishments of Peterson, who has served the district for 32 years: He is the founder and creator of the PHS Athletic Hall of Fame; has been the sports director at KPRW for 21 years; served on the Relay for Life Committee, emceeing the event and doing the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting; is a Minnesota State High School League representative and recent member of the Region 6 committee; volunteered for five years in the gymnastics program; volunteers three days a week during the summer in Speed Strength program for four years; is the head coach for the track team and was a donor for the Tuffy's Stadium project. In addition, he has served on the state amateur Baseball tournament committee and has remarkable success with more than 140 students in the track and field program with more than 20 conference championships, numerous state teams and even more individual state champions.

"And does he take Sunday off?" Sailer said. "No, he is a lector at St. Henry's."

Sailer came to rely on Peterson's sound reasoning and passion, he said.

"Mike was a sounding board for me and a trusted advisor," Sailer said. "When I retired from school work, I only gave Erin Anderson one piece of advice: Listen to Mike. He knows, he won't stab you in the back, and he is as loyal to our school and community as anyone I know."

At a time when online shopping is the norm, two businesses stand out in Perham, said Chamber president Nick Theroux, who introduced the Chamber's Small Town Spirit Award to Murdock's Ace Hardware and the exceptional level of customer service provided by the owners and staff.

"First, you're greeted by Rio, the family pet," Theroux said. "Then customer service kicks into high gear when the employees of Murdock's Ace Hardware greet you with a friendly 'may I help you?'"

Whether helping people figure out their project or offering directions to the precise location of products within store, everyone is eager to help, he said.

Owners Nick and Katie, along with Matt, Delvin, Ray and Peter, store employees, as well as Rio, "exhibit that hometown spirit of customer service and community service," Theroux said.

Theroux also presented the Best in Business award to Goose Gang, saying that Perham is "blessed" with natural resources, manufacturing, service industries and traditional retail stores.

"Goose Gang has excelled with innovative approaches to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers," he said. "Visitors and locals alike are looking for an experience with something for everyone. They know they will find it at the Goose Gang."

Theroux acknowledged the staff who have demonstrated how clever, innovative and pioneering approaches to retail business works in today's competitive environment.

The ownership team of Doug and Sue Huebsch also operate New Life Farms, Napa of Perham, Wild Goose and still provide professional services to the community, industry and government.

Accepting the award on behalf of Goose Gang were employees Lora Bjerke and Ali Petru.

Jerry Kunza was presented with the Hall of Fame Award for his work on the Perham Health board. He joined the board when the hospital was ready to close its doors, with one doctor, said presenter Chuck Hofius, hospital administrator. Through the years, Kunza led the board into the future, and to oversee construction of a new $40 million Perham Health facility.

"We have a good group of board members who enjoy working together," Kunza said upon accepting the award. "We also have a superb medical staff including providers, nurses and support staff. We need to recognize these people more. Without them we wouldn't have the nice facilities that we do."

Kunza has served on the Perham hospital board since 1982, holding a number of positions, including chairman for five terms, vice chairman, treasurer and clerk.

The final award of the night, the Leadership Award, was presented by Kenny Nelson to KLN president Charlie Nelson, and Tuffy's General Manager Jon Ebeling.

In accepting the award, Nelson said it was his grandfather and father and their passion for the Tuffy's business, as well as their respect for the management group and employees-which numbered 40 at the time-that allowed him and Jon to receive the award.

"At the end of the day, (Dad) just didn't want to see the business close and leave town," Nelson said, adding, "I also know that without Gary Ebeling's involvement all those years, as well as his direct involvement in assisting in getting the right parties together 15 years ago, this wouldn't have happened."

He also noted that it takes a number of people to run a business, people who adhere to high standards for quality.

"That was, and still is, one of the exciting things going on at Tuffy's," Nelson said. "We have such a strong management team and workforce at Tuffy's that produces high quality products day in and day out, and it has given the entire team ... all the confidence in the world to go out and sell Tuffy's products."

Turning over the program to Jon Ebeling, Nelson also acknowledged his contributions to the company's success.

"I want Jon to know that I have enjoyed our brief run together thus far," he said. "You are smart, detailed, buttoned up, focused, passionate and proud in what you and your entire team does every day."

Accepted the microphone, Ebeling thanked all the people involved in making the Tuffy's Pet Food project second-to-none and a state-of-the-art facility.

"It has taken a team effort of Tuffy's ownership, employees, and our design, engineering and construction partners," he said. "I'd also like to thank the city and community for being very supportive throughout the entire project. It has truly taken a team to get to where we are today."

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